Ohio State Battles Back from Early Deficit, Earns First Conference Road Win

Ohio State started slow, built a big lead, let the lead slip away, but regained control midway through the second half to get their first road win of 2020, defeating Northwestern in Evanston, 71-59 to move to 13-7 and 3-6 in the Big Ten. D.J. Carton came off the bench to lead 4 Buckeyes in double figures with 17 and Justin Ahrens added 12, all from three balls. Andre and Kaleb Wesson each added 11 and Kaleb also recorded 9 rebounds.  The shooting numbers weren’t great, but they made them in key moments to propel Ohio State to what they hope will be a momentum building win. The Buckeyes shot just 44% from the floor, including 38% from beyond the arc, while holding Northwestern to just 38% shooting overall and 30% from long range.  With the win, Ohio State snaps a 2 game losing streak and sends them into an off week with something positive to build on.

Another slow start for the Buckeyes, coming up empty on their first 7 possessions, including 2 missed three’s and 3 turnovers, and Northwestern raced out to a 7-0 lead. The Buckeyes finally got on the board when Andre Wesson rebounded a Kaleb Wesson shot that failed to draw iron, and followed with a score with 15:45 left in the first half.  The Wildcats scored on their next possession and led 9-2 at the under 16 media timeout. A pair of D.J. Carton free throws got the Buckeyes to within 5 but the Ohio State shooting woes would continue, missing 9 of their first 10 shots enabling the lowly Wildcats to get out to a 13-4 lead.  A rebound, put back from Kyle Young followed by a steal and score in transition by Duane Washington, cut the lead to 13-8, but a second chance opportunity for Northwestern put the Cats ahead 15-8 at the under 12 media timeout.  Ohio State came out of the timeout looking like a different basketball team.  Duane Washington buried a corner three off a baseline inbounds play to cut the lead to 4 and on the next possession, Justin Ahrens drilled a three to trim the lead to just 1. After a Northwestern miss, Kaleb Wesson’s jump hook in the lane gave Ohio State their first lead, 16-15. The lead didn’t last long as the Wildcats scored the next 4 to go up 3, but on the next possession, Ahrens got the ball in the corner, took a dribble to his left to elude a defender and drilled another 3 to tie the score with 7:50 left. A pair of Andre Wesson free throws gave Ohio State a 2-point lead and after a Northwestern technical foul, Andre bagged 2 more free throws to give the Buckeyes a 4 point bulge. The lead stood at four when C.J. Walker penetrated the lane and kicked out to Andre Wesson on the left wing for three and the Buckeyes led 30-23.  After a Wildcat turnover, more excellent ball movement led to an inside/out from Kyle Young to D.J. Carton, who buried a three from the right wing, forcing Northwestern to call timeout with 3:55 left in the half and the Buckeyes leading 33-23 and on a 10-2 run. Northwestern cut it to 7 after an old fashioned three point play, but the Buckeyes answered with a Luther Muhammad triple to go back up 10.  Northwestern hit a 3 to cut the lead back to 7 before Kaleb Wesson dropped in a jump hook to give the Buckeyes a 9 point lead.  After Ohio State blew a transition opportunity, Northwestern made them pay, drilling another three to cut the lead to 6. The Cats would close to within 3 at the break in what was a disastrous finish to the half for Ohio State, as Northwestern outscored the Buckeyes 12-5 down the stretch. Ohio State, who was led by Andre Wesson’s 11 first half points, shot 50% from the floor overall and 3 of 9 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.

The Cats got the second half started with a triple to tie the score but a Kaleb Wesson 3 put the Buckeyes back up 3. A pair of Northwestern free throws followed by another Wildcat triple put Northwestern on top by 3 but that 3 point lead didn’t last long. D.J. Carton drove the length of the floor for a lay in to trim the lead quickly to 1 and Carton forced a turnover off a side inbounds play and scored in transition to give the Buckeyes a 1-point lead. The Buckeyes went up 3 when Andre Wesson lobbed to Kaleb for a lay in while being fouled. After Kaleb missed his free throw, he rebounded the miss off an Andre tip and Kaleb hit a short jumper to put Ohio State up 5. After a Northwestern jumper, Justin Ahrens drilled a three to put Ohio State up 6.  After a Northwestern miss, the Buckeyes found Ahrens in transition for another triple to give Ohio State a 55-46 advantage. The Wildcats answered with a triple of their own and heading into the under 12 media timeout, Ohio State led 55-49 after an offensive flurry at both ends and 10:14 remaining in the game. The Wildcats capitalized on several second chance opportunities to cut the lead to 4 but E.J. Liddell found the bottom of the ropes from just above the free throw stripe to put the Buckeyes back up 6. However, just prior to the under 8 media timeout, Northwestern drew the 4th personal foul on Kaleb Wesson but Ohio State was ahead on the scoreboard 57-51 and 7:35 on the clock. A D.J. Carton leaner in the lane put the Buckeyes up 8 but a 4-0 Northwestern run cut the lead to 4 forcing Chris Holtmann to call a 30 second timeout with 5:08 to go. Out of the timeout, D.J. Carton knifed to the rim and was fouled, bagging both free throws to put Ohio State back up 6. Following a Wildcat miss, Duane Washington lobbed the ball to the rim in transition and Carton, showing his athleticism, tipped it in to give Ohio State a 63-55 lead forcing a Northwestern timeout with 4:28 to go. After a Wildcat free throw, CJ Walker and Duane Washington went back to back for three ballooning the Buckeye lead to 13 with just under 3 minutes to go. A Northwestern 3 fell to trim the lead to 10 and Northwestern called a quick 30-second timeout. After a miss each way, and a pair of fouls, Ohio State found a streaking Carton for a dunk to rubber stamp this one and send Ohio State to their first conference road win of the year.

While it wasn’t always pretty, there were some positive signs.  They did a much better job of sharing the basketball and getting out in transition, which was a key to their early season success.  They also got contributions from their bench, in particular Carton and Ahrens, who combined for 29.  Most importantly, it looked like they were having fun.  So many times in this mid-season slide, they looked stressed on the floor and unsure of themselves.  Having a player with the explosiveness of Carton helps in that area and they need him to turn the corner for them to use this game to propel them into some positive momentum heading into the second half of the Big Ten season. In addition to the 29 from Carton and Ahrens, Duane Washington chipped in 8 off the bench and he played well all around, assisting on 3 made buckets while not turning it over. That kind of bench production is huge moving forward. Also, not to be glossed over was the floor game of C.J. Walker, who only scored 3, but contributed with 6 assists and just 1 turnover, providing this team a steadying floor general they need from him. This won’t be mistaken for winning on the road at some of the more difficult places in the conference, but no one will ever apologize for a road win.  Take the win, build from it, and try to get this season turned into a positive direction.

The Buckeyes will head back home to host Indiana in the Schott on Saturday at Noon with the game airing on ESPN.

-Jason Harris

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